Releasing the brakes on adult plasticity
Start date: Jul 1, 2014,
End date: Jun 30, 2019
"Age-related cognitive impairments compromise the functional capacity of aging individuals, and create major individual and societal costs. Developing means for preserving and restoring cognitive functioning in old age is therefore of great importance. Age-related cognitive impairments have a complex and multifactorial etiology. Pharmaceutical approaches to prevention and treatment have therefore been unsuccessful, and searching for non-pharmaceutical approaches is important. Results of cognitive training studies have so far been disappointing. I hypothesize that the reason for this is that plasticity is functionally inhibited after normal childhood development. Plasticity is then further reduced in aging due to negative brain changes. In this sense, past studies on the effects of cognitive training in adulthood and old age have, so to speak, attempted to push a car that has the brakes on. In a series of experimental studies on humans, my research team will discover feasible ways to release inhibitory brakes on adult plasticity, develop routes to attenuate age-related negative effects on plasticity, and uncover the neural mediators of training-related change in performance, so that the effects of cognitive training can be increased and better understood. Outcome variables include measures of brain function, volume, and integrity acquired using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging, and up-to-date measures of cognitive performance. Experimental effects on these measures will be evaluated using structural equation models suitable for analyzing repeated measures. This amalgamation of state-of-the-art methodology in the neurosciences and the behavioral sciences bolsters the uniqueness of this research program, which will enlighten the mechanisms of plasticity at neuronal and behavioral levels of analysis. The resulting insights will pave the way for effective rehabilitation of several neurological conditions and for reducing age-associated cognitive impairments."
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